A weapon is described as an instrument of offensive or defensive combat; something to fight with; a means of contending against another. Further, it is described as an implement that can be used with intent to inflict damage or harm.
The typical use of a weapon is for hunting, self-defense, law enforcement and warfare. A less honorable use is in the commission of a crime. From these descriptors, it is clear that a weapon is used tactically to gain an advantage over an adversary or target.
None of those descriptors comfortably fits within the context of stewardship. Stewardship refers to the responsible planning and management of resources, which would include our tithes and offerings.
As described biblically, our tithe represents an offering of our first fruits back to God in recognition of God’s generosity and blessing. It requires a mindset that everything belongs to God and is given by God.
There are many references in the Hebrew Bible to tithing (Gen. 14: 19-20, Leviticus 27: 30-34, Proverbs 3: 9-10, Malachi 3: 8-10), and references to faithful giving in the New Testament (Matthew 6: 1-4, Matthew 23:23-24, Mark 12: 41-44, Hebrews 7: 1).
Personally, I believe that reconciling our financial resources is a part of our spiritual disciplines. And, I believe that tithes and offerings are part of our reasonable sacrifice as Christ-followers. Our giving continues to remind us that we are to place God foremost in every aspect of our lives, including our finances. What do you believe?
Recently, you may have heard the phrase, “the weaponization of stewardship.” It refers to the withholding of tithes and offerings in the personal sense, and mission shares or apportionments in the congregational or conference sense, out of disagreement or protest. For some, this protest arises from the current stance within the Book of Discipline on human sexuality, the outcome of the Special Session of General Conference, or the events of Annual Conferences. These individuals, congregations or even conferences are withholding their stewardship to make a statement. Some have even forthrightly stated that they intend to inflict pain so as to be heard and to influence future actions.
This begs the question: Is that how we are to offer our tithes and offerings to God, or live into our connectional responsibilities? Is our giving supposed to be predicated on our agreement or disagreement with the actions of the conference or denomination?
Should our stewardship be reduced to attempting to gain advantage over an adversary or target? Are we to look upon one another as adversaries? As targets? How does this comport with the aforementioned Scriptures and the teaching of Christ in the Great Commandment, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matt. 22: 37-39)
John Wesley also spoke a great deal about faithful stewardship, for example: “None of these temporal things are yours: you are only stewards of them, not proprietors."
There are many congregations who are in direct disagreement with the exclusionary language contained within the Book of Discipline yet who continue to faithfully practice good stewardship. Some of those congregations pen a letter to myself and other leaders of the conference stating their protest, but living into their connectional responsibility. They are making their voices heard and remaining faithful to our shared mission and ministry. I am grateful for their witness and their faithfulness. They are not violating one aspect of our covenantal life to raise their objection to what they deem to be another violation of our covenantal life.
In other words, they do not live behind the philosophy that two wrongs make a right.
The tithes and offerings within a local church support the mission and ministry of that parish and the ability of the church to contribute to the mission and ministry of the Annual Conference. In turn, the conference carries out its faithful work and contributes to the mission and ministry of the global denomination. While a portion of those funds supports the salaries and benefits of those working at all levels of the church, the lion’s share of it enables The United Methodist Church to be the hands and feet of Christ in the world. The funds also support the work of our agencies, which provide critical resources for the entire connection.
We know we are not of one mind concerning the full inclusion of our LGBTQIA+ brothers and sisters within the life of our denomination. We have not been in such agreement since 1972, when the current language was introduced into the Book of Discipline. And, there are many others aspects of our life together that we do not agree upon. How we engage these disagreements matters. How we express our objections matters.
Our stewardship matters.